Qatar Airways has told flight attendants that they are no longer allowed to leave their hotel rooms during international layovers due to Omicron fears, as airlines around the world grapple with worsening staff shortages as a result of surging COVID-19 infections that are sickening crew and sending them into isolation.
Qatar Airways is implementing a nocturnal crew curfew at its home base in Doha, in addition to a self-imposed hotel quarantine policy.
Only a ‘justifiable emergency’ or prior permission from a manager will allow crew to leave lockdown.
“In light of the continuously rising number of COVID-positive cases globally, we are forced to implement additional precautionary measures to minimise the risk of spreading the highly transmisaable strains of the virus,” an internal memo titled ‘COVID-19 precautionary measures’ informed crew.
“While we understand the temporary precautionary steps introduced may make life more difficult, we assure you that these measures are being put into place with the sole aim of protecting you and those around you from contracting the virus.”
The measures have yet to be implemented by Qatar’s Ministry of Health, and while breaking the rules is not illegal, crew members may face disciplinary action, including firing.
Pilots and cabin staff have become accustomed to spending time in hotel quarantine during layovers throughout the pandemic.
These lockdowns are usually a local legal necessity, although for fully vaccinated crew members, hotel quarantine has been lowered or totally removed in many areas.
China and Hong Kong are notable exceptions, where crews can be rushed into government quarantine facilities at any time.
Even in nations where there are no isolation restrictions for international airline personnel, some airlines have ordered crew to remain locked in their hotel room.
Qatar Airways has sought to reassure personnel that the internal lockdown restriction was enforced in reaction to “the exceedingly frightening circumstances at the moment,” and that it will be lifted “as soon as it is safe to do so.”
In response to worries about the highly transmissible Omicron variant, Qatar Airways required cabin personnel to wear protective gowns, gloves, and goggles on all flights earlier this month.
The curfew will be in effect from 10 p.m. to 4 a.m. every night until further notice. The majority of cabin crew members live in company-owned communal housing, and their movements are monitored by onsite security.
Last year, Qatar Airways imposed an even stricter curfew and required crew members who lived in their own homes to return to the airline’s flats.
In order to comply with the requirements, some cabin staff members said they were separated from their families, including young children.